In the U.S., over 25 million people are affected by asthma, a disease that causes inflammation of the airway to the lungs. For some people, asthma is a minor inconvenience, while for others, it’s a significant problem that interferes with daily activities and leads to life-threatening asthma attacks. To understand asthma, you first have to understand the process of breathing. Normally, when you take a breath, air goes through your nose or mouth, down into your throat, and into your airways, eventually reaching your lungs.
Asthma occurs when the lining of your airway—which runs from your nose/mouth to your lungs—becomes swollen and inflamed. When this happens, your airway becomes narrower, limiting the amount of air that can get through to the lungs. Mucus then fills your airways, further reducing the amount of air that can pass through. Triad Clinical Trials developed this resources page to provide information about asthma and hopefully answer questions you may have about this disease.
What are the symptoms of asthma?
Asthma can make breathing difficult and some physical activities challenging or downright impossible. You may have infrequent asthma attacks, symptoms only at certain times (such as when exercising), or constant symptoms. While the symptoms vary from person to person, the most common symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest tightness or pain
- Wheezing when exhaling
- Difficulty talking
- Difficulty sleeping caused by shortness of breath, coughing or wheezing
Asthma symptoms can be mild, moderate, or severe. Severe attacks can be life-threatening. You should seek emergency treatment if you experience rapid worsening of shortness of breath or wheezing, no improvement after using a quick-relief inhaler, or shortness of breath when doing minimal physical activity.
What causes asthma?
While it’s unclear why some people develop asthma and others don’t, researchers believe it’s likely due to a combination of environmental and genetic factors. Despite the root cause being unknown, what’s clear is that asthma symptoms often occur in response to a trigger. A person’s asthma attacks may be triggered by one or more of the following:
- Airborne allergens, including pollen, dust mites, mold spores, pet dander, or droppings from cockroaches and other pests
- Air pollutants, such as smoke, chemical fumes, or gases
- Respiratory infections, such as the common cold or the flu
- Intense emotions and stress
- Cold and/or dry air
- Certain medications, including beta-blockers, aspirin, NSAIDs, and ACE inhibitors
Who’s at risk?
Anyone can develop asthma, although it’s more prevalent in children, especially boys. In fact, asthma is the leading chronic disease in children, affecting one out of every 12 American children. However, in adults, women are more likely to suffer from asthma than men.
Several factors are thought to increase a person’s chances of developing asthma, including:
- Having a relative with asthma
- Having another allergic condition, such as atopic dermatitis
- Being overweight
- Being a smoker or being exposed to secondhand smoke
- Regular exposure to air pollutants
- Regular exposure to occupational triggers, such as chemicals used in farming, hairdressing, and manufacturing
Can asthma be prevented?
While there’s no way to prevent asthma completely, you and your healthcare practitioner can design a detailed plan for reducing the severity and frequency of your attacks. Let’s take a look at some of the top things you can do to prevent future asthma attacks:
- Follow your treatment plan. Asthma is a chronic condition that requires consistent monitoring and treatment. Just because you’re asymptomatic one day doesn’t mean you can forgo your treatment plan.
- Get vaccinated for the flu and pneumonia. Staying up-to-date with vaccinations can reduce the chances of asthma flares caused by respiratory illnesses.
- Identify and avoid your triggers. Keep a journal to determine what causes or worsens your symptoms and take steps to avoid those triggers.
- Identify and treat attacks early. If you act at the first sign of an attack, your symptoms are less likely to become severe.
- Manage stress. Because stress is a common trigger of asthma symptoms, it’s important to learn how to manage it.
What treatments are available?
There is currently no cure for asthma. However, there are many treatment options, which fall into four primary categories:
- Quick-relief medications: These medications, called bronchodilators, work within minutes to relax the tightened muscles around your airway, rapidly decreasing symptoms. Bronchodilators are most commonly taken with an inhaler and can be used to treat sudden symptoms or before exercise to prevent a flare-up.
- Long-term control medications: These medications are taken daily to help reduce the number and severity of asthma symptoms. These medications include anti-inflammatories, anticholinergics, and long-acting bronchodilators. It’s important to note that these medications don’t manage the immediate symptoms of an attack.
- A combination of quick-relief and long-term control medications: Often, people with asthma use a combination of the above two treatment options.
- Biologics: Reserved for severe cases of asthma that don’t respond to other medications, biologics work by targeting specific antibodies, disrupting the pathway that leads to inflammation of the airway.
There are several new asthma treatments that are only available in clinical trials. Clinical trials recruit patients who are interested in trying new therapies, and who want to contribute to innovative research that could one day bring new treatments to patients. These trials are free to participants and may include payment for time and travel. If you or someone you care about has asthma and are interested in learning more about paid research studies, sign up with Triad Clinical Trials today.
The content and/or opinions voiced in this Triad Clinical Trials resources page are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific healthcare advice or recommendations for any individual.